GRASP Sets U.N. Helicopter for Chimpanzee Rescue
A chimpanzee orphaned by the bushmeat trade was airlifted to safety by United Nations peacekeepers patrolling the Democratic Republic of Congo in a transfer coordinated by the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP).
A U.N. helicopter transported the infant female chimpanzee – nicknamed “Beni” – from northeastern DR Congo on July 20 to the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center sanctuary in South Kivu.
The MI-8MTV transport helicopter rescue was part of the U.N.’s regularly scheduled air traffic within the region as part of the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) effort, and reduced what would have a grueling 550-kilometer trip overland to less than two hours. In 2010, the U.N. also airlifted four orphaned gorillas from Rwanda to a sanctuary in DR Congo.
“GRASP is extremely grateful to the MONUSCO officials who made this transfer possible,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. “Their commitment and coordination on behalf of an endangered species is truly admirable, and GRASP looks forward to developing this relationship further.”
Chimpanzees are classified as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and an illegal trade in chimpanzee meat and live pets flourishes in eastern DR Congo. The rescue was part of a wider GRASP effort to combat the illegal trade in great apes, both by supporting the law enforcement efforts of the Congolese wildlife authority (ICCN) and by engaging the U.N. peacekeeping forces.
“MONUSCO is happy to have been able to contribute to this laudable effort,” said MONUSCO spokesperson Madnodhe Mounoubai, the Deputy Director for Public Information. “Our mission is here not only to assist Congo recover a lasting peace but also to help this country protect its natural resources for the benefit of its entire people”.
U.N. peacekeepers have operated in DR Congo since 1999, and the current force includes over 20,000 military, civilian and judicial personnel authorized to help stabilize the region.
The chimpanzee was being kept illegally as a pet in the northeastern DR Congo city of Beni before being voluntarily turned over to ICCN officials. The transfer was assisted by a team of GRASP partners, including the Zoological Society of London, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, and the ICCN.
Chimpanzees in DR Congo are seriously threatened by habitat loss, human encroachment, and disease – but primarily by the illegal bushmeat trade. A 2010 study indicated that approximately 450 chimpanzees were killed for meat each year, and it is estimated that 90 percent of the wild population has disappeared over the last century. GRASP works to protect DR Congo’s chimpanzees through support to the national park authorities in law enforcement, monitoring and community conservation.
At Lwiro, “Beni” joins 53 other orphaned chimpanzees. Estimated to be less than 24 months old, she will join a nursery group of infants before eventually joining established social groups.
GRASP is a unique alliance comprised of partner nations, United Nations agencies, conservation organizations, and private supporters working to conserve great apes and their habitat in Africa and Asia. For more information, please visit www.un-grasp.org.